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Southern California Megalopolis Brew Tour Part II

We must be getting older because Saturday’s activities took a bit out of us. And I don’t think waking up in the Inland Empire helped. After overcoming the morning fogginess and grogginess, we were back on the road headed west. Luckily we had an easier day of beer travel on Sunday.

Barrels at The Bruery

There was no way we could drive all the way to Southern California without visiting The Bruery in Placentia. The hottest thing since sliced bread, The Bruery burst on the scene in 2007 to rave reviews. I’ll admit I was a little skeptical because that is my nature. Plus, the several Bruery beers I had tried somewhat reinforced my skepticism. They were good, but not ‘earth-shattering’ good. We had to go to see what all the hype was about.

Arriving just after opening, we entered the almost empty tasting room. The only thing that marred the serenity was the NFL playoff game blaring on the  TV. An empty tasting room was understandable as the day before, The Bruery had their Reserve Society ‘initiation’, attended by hundreds of Bruery fans. I expected to walk in and see the tasting room a shambles and 2 inches of beer on the floor. But it was spotless.

Oude Tart

Amongst all the barrels and brewing equipment, we took a seat at the bar. Beginning with Orchard White, a lavender bomb of a beer,  we proceeded to sample The Bruery lineup; seven in all.

The first beer to peak my interest was Rugbrød, which means ‘rye bread’ in Danish.  A really nice spicy brew, Rugbrød is made with, as the name suggests, rye. For a second day in a row, I drank a rye beer I really liked. I guess I need to stop saying I don’t care for rye beers.

Another Bruery beer to peak my interest was Oude Tart, a Flemish Red Ale aged in red wine barrels. A bit drier than other beers of the style I have tried, I found their version delicious.

One thing I wasn’t expecting from The Bruery were hop forward beers. But two, Mischief, a Belgian-style Golden Strong Ale, and Humulus XPA, an Extra Pale Ale, greatly pleased the hophead in me. These were the two stars of the day.

We could have hung out at The Bruery all day. But we had other places to be and dinner with family. I left The Bruery with much more of an appreciation of their brews and six bottles to share this new-found appreciation with friends… maybe. Thanks to Brian for the great hospitality…

A few of the 88 taps at Naja’s Place

Located along the Redondo Beach boardwalk, we had some trouble finding Naja’s Place. Part of the problem was that it was dark and raining. The other problem was we didn’t know to look for a waterfront dive bar. After some confusion and a bit of bickering, we located Naja’s right below where we parked. Entering the large open air bar, we joined a sparse Sunday night crowd. From the moment we stepped in, Naja’s seemed like our kind of place: laid back with a great beer selection.

Enjoying a Firestone Walker Double Jack but not the chilly weather

Naja’s boasts that they have the “best beer selection in Los Angeles.” I don’t really know because we don’t do SoCal very often. But what I do know is that I loved the place. Macros like Primo, Budweiser and Miller Lite are included amongst their 88 taps, but mostly Naja’s beer list is a who’s-who of craft beer. The tap selection is backed up by a large, Belgian-leaning bottle list. Mesmerized by the huge whiteboard of a beer list, I mistakenly went with beers I know, rather than be adventurous and try breweries I’m less familiar with, like Mammoth Brewing. Merideth’s decision making skills in the face of such choice went down the toilet. She wants to thank the bartender Matt for his patience during her periods of indecision.

Plenty of beers to choose from at Naja’s

Settling down for a game of scrabble, I enjoyed some of my old favorites; Pliny the Elder, Firestone Walker’s Double Jack and Port’s Hop 15. After Merideth grabbed a much needed 277-259 Scrabble victory, I finally discovered a new brew to try. Actually, Merideth discovered Bashah. A Black Double Belgian IPA (say that fast three times), Bashah was a collaboration brew between Stone and Brewdog. And a very nice collaboration it was.

We chatted with the bartender, Matt, and were later joined by some friends. My final pint of  the evening was my favorite Victory beer, Yakima Twilight. This was the first time I had it on draft. Our beer tour of Southern California ended by closing Naja’s Place on a rainy Sunday night with good friends. I want to thank Naja’s GM, Martin, for our first round. Hopefully we can return the favor some time soon.

On our way back home Monday morning, we stopped at Wolf Creek Brewing in Valencia and Merideth added a brewery that I already had. She is now only one brewery behind me; 535 to 534.

Merideth getting one back at Wolf Creek in Valencia

Southern California Megalopolis Brew Tour Part I

Saturday morning we were back on Hwy 101 heading southeast. This was our big day of the trip, with several breweries and a sandwich shop on our itinerary. After successfully negotiating the Saturday morning traffic around downtown LA, we got on I-10 east to San Gabriel.

Some of the 700 beers at Stuffed Sandwich

For years, I have seen adverts in the Celebrator for Stuffed Sandwich and thought to myself that we needed to get there. But due to the limited amount of time we have spent in LA, we never managed to get to this Southern California beer institution. Luckily for us, the drive to our first brewery took us right by San Gabriel.

Need a 1996 Anchor Christmas magnum?

Opened in 1976, and in their current location since 2003, Stuffed Sandwich is not a pub, but rather an old school sandwich shop that has a selection of 700 beers. They also have an off license and a huge collection of beer glasses to purchase.

There are a couple of quirks at Stuffed Sandwich that we didn’t know about prior to our visit. First, we had to buy food to get beer. As Merideth and I perused the beer choices, Marlene, one of the owners, patiently waited for us at the food counter. When we didn’t budge from in front of the beer, she politely said, “Why don’t you come over here and we’ll take care of the food first and then the beer.” Turns out their liquor license requires a food purchase. Nice rookie maneuver.

With our 2-meat, 1-cheese sub and a grilled cheese ordered, we got down to the beer. And what would be more perfect for a 70º day then a flight of Porters and Stouts. With our seven beer flight in hand, we headed outside to enjoy the sun.

The Stout and Porter flight at Stuffed Sandwich

Here, we noticed the second quirk. Three people, two guys and a woman, walked in with beer glasses in their hand. At the time, we thought they were extreme beer douches who had to drink out of their own glassware for some reason. We learned later that Stuffed Sandwich encourages customers to bring their own glassware. Otherwise, the beer is served in plastic cups. Or the customer can buy one of the many logo glasses for sale.

Of the seven beers in our flight, two Porters and five Stouts, Avery’s 2008 Out of Bounds Stout was the highlight for me. And Victory’s 2009 Storm King. Merideth thought Bootlegger’s Chocolate Mint Porter was like eating a Junior Mint.

Truly a unique experience, I am actually looking forward to another trip to Southern California so we can go to Stuffed Sandwich again.

Skyscraper Brewery

Our first brewery of the day, Skyscraper Brewing in El Monte, was a short drive from Stuffed Sandwich. Skyscraper has been on the LA beer scene for three years. Their anniversary party was taking place a week after our visit. Skyscraper  brews their own beers, as well as a few contract brews.

We sampled four house and three contract brews. Of the house beers, their Mexican-style lager, Sancha, was quite pleasing. A big seller and soon to one of Skyscraper’s year-round beers, I could see myself downing a few at a Mexican restaurant in the Los Angeles area. Our favorite was Backhoe Brown, which had nice milk chocolate notes. The other star was the contract Requiem Expresso Stout, like drinking an iced espresso.

Bootlegger’s Brewery

Believe it or not, I can be quite rigid at times in planning our travels. Here is a prime example. I didn’t want to go to Bootlegger’s Brewery in Fullerton because we would have to deviate from the straight line drive to the Inland Empire. In my world, this is a big problem. It wasn’t until that morning that I decided that it was OK to zig to Fullerton and then zag back to I-10.

Enjoying Bootlegger’s 76 Anniversary Ale

Inside the typical industrial park brewery and tasting room, we tried seven brews. Palomino American-Style Pale Ale and Golden Chaos, a Belgian-Style Golden Ale were both really nice. Not a rye beer guy, I loved Rustic Rye, an 85 IBU IPA made with 15% Rye. Not a chili beer guy either, I enjoyed the subtle chipotle flavor of Black Phoenix Chipotle Coffee Stout. However, the stars at Bottlegger’s were the 76 Anniversary Ale and it’s brother Hopinator 76 Anniversary Ale. Both Old Ales, the latter version had an additional dose of English hops. It was a good thing I was able to deal with my issues, as Bootlegger’s is a ‘should not miss’ brewery. Thanks to Patricia for being a great hostess.

Merideth enjoying Hangar 24’s Porter

From Orange County, our travels took us out to the Inland Empire, which is the Riverside/San Bernadino area of the megalopolis. Our final stop of the day, Hangar 24 Craft Brewery, was in Redlands. And as the name suggests, the brewery is located at Redlands Municipal Airport.

Hangar 24 was one of breweries that inspired the trip. A friend had brought us their Helles and Pale Ale a few months previous. After trying those excellent brews, I immediately said that we needed to visit the brewery.

The taster set at hangar 24

Walking into the hangar-like brewery and tasting room, we were immediately struck by large crowd mingling about the building. Besides being the first crowd of the day, we were surprised to see so many people out in what we thought was the middle of nowhere. Taking a place at the bar to order a taster set, we marveled at the 10-deep line for growler fills.

There were four Hangar 24 beers we had yet to try. Like the Helles, the Altbier was a spot on example of a German style. The Porter was a chocolate and coffee bomb and Merideth’s favorite. My favorite was, of course, the hopbomb. Hangar 24’s IPA was a single hop brew made with Columbus hops. As for their best seller, the Orange Wheat, Merideth thought it was okay for a “girly beer”. Made with local oranges, most customers seemed to agree with Merideth as we witnessed growler after growler being filled with Orange Wheat. I did get admonished by a staff person for calling it a “girly beer.”

With a beer, we relaxed and talked to some locals. It was a nice way to finish our big day. But it was time to get some sleep because we had another day in the megalopolis ahead.

Sunset at Hangar 24

A Lady to the Rescue

Driving five hours for a beer; that is how our Southern California beer journey began.

With our goal of reaching 600 breweries in 2010, we needed to get busy. The three-day MLK weekend was a perfect opportunity to make a dent in the needed 76 breweries. But where to go? My first thought was Southern California, an area we haven’t done much beer traveling. Quite out of character, I waffled on this plan up until a few days prior to leaving. No offense to our SoCal friends, but the thought of spending the three-day weekend driving around the Greater LA area just didn’t appeal to me. But no alternative plan emerged that garnered the same number of breweries for the List. So on Friday evening, I picked Merideth up from work and we started the five hour drive to Ladyface Ale House & Brasserie in Agoura Hills.

Ladyface Alehouse, a new beer refuge on Hwy 101

Ladyface Ale Companie is a brand new brewery on the Southern California beer scene. We have to thank our friend Peter S. for giving us the heads up as I hadn’t found it in my pre-trip research. Peter, responding to a post on our Facebook fanpage, told us to check out this new brewery started by one of his friends.

The tedious drive south was boring, but more  importantly, uneventful. Located just of Hwy 101, we arrived at Ladyface thirsty and hungry. We were a bit tired too as it was WAY past our bedtime.

Ladyface IPA

Being a new brewery, the beers we tried were first batches whose recipes are still being tweeked. In the past when we have encountered this situation, our reaction was typically ‘we should come back in six months and try the beers again’… a veiled way of describing a certain amount of  disappointment. With that said, I would love to visit Ladyface again in six months as their really good beers will probably be spectacular.

They had three Belgian-inspired brews on the night we visited: La Blonde, Ladyface IPA and Blind Ambition Amber. True to form, Merideth immediately took to the Blonde while I gravitated to the IPA. Not an over-the-top West Coast version, the IPA still had that wonderful hop character that I crave.

The beers paired well with the Brasserie’s Belgian-inspired menu. Merideth and I both got to enjoy one of our favorite Belgian dishes, the Croque Madame. Basically a grilled cheese and ham sandwich topped with a fried egg, this Belgian comfort food was just what we needed after the long drive.

The beer selection at Ladyface Alehouse

Also of note was their guest taps. Some of my favorite beers were on tap that night: Alesmith IPA, The Duchess and Monk’s Cafe Flemish Sour to mention a few. I augmented my Ladyface IPA with several of the guest brews as I never see them at home. But this bounty of guest taps is short-lived. As Ladyface brings more brews on-line, the guest taps will disappear.

It was now WAY, WAY past our bedtime. Well satisfied, it was time to get some sleep. We had a big second day ahead.